California takes more time to process initial unemployment claims than 40 other states, according to a new state audit of the Employment Development Department, as high-tech and telephone problems continue to plague the system.
For the quarter ending June 30,Â 2012, the department made 78 percent of initial payments within 14Â days. The federal government considers 87 percent of initial benefits issued within 14 days to be acceptable.
The audit notes that unemployment fell in California from 12.3 percent in June 2010 to 10.4 percent in August 2012 and that initial claims dropped from 296,000 to 209,000.
"Although the State's unemployment rate has declined since 2010, the department still faces challenges in meeting acceptable timeliness levels," State Auditor Elaine Howle said in the report.
The department has made some streamlining fixes, such as an online benefits application process. But it abandoned an expansion of online claims filing and slowed down another program to quicken processing eligible claimants who can receive
unemployment benefits while attending approved job training.
The report also says the department hasn't adequately measured how the projects it has implemented have affected its performance.
Auditors also criticized the department's revamped phone system, noting that millions of Californians have trouble reaching an agent. In fiscal 2011-12, nearly one of every four calls into EDD could not get through.
"Furthermore, of the 29.7 million calls in which individuals asked to speak with an agent, 24.9Â million, or 84Â percent, were unsuccessful," the audit says, and EDD hasn't used its new phone system to analyze what the public calls for agents or to devise a plan to reduce call volumes.